SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - NOVEMBER 2017

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 67 of 82

the ultimate Challenger ivan stewart tamed baja and In The Process, Became Off-Road Racing’s Biggest Icon By Dan Sanchez Off-road racing has spawned many careers and legendary racers, but none are as big as Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. With a career that spans several decades, Stewart is “the man” when it comes to off-road racing’s most admired and legendary heroes. He’s conquered Baja in with his own style of racing and winning that even today, not too many racers can duplicate. Nevertheless, countless racers got into the sport, by watching and wanting to emulate Ivan Stewart’s capabilities and success in the sport. While his legendary status has many believe Stewart began racing in Baja before he learned to walk, his introduction to the Baja peninsula actually began later in his career. Racing off-road in buggies and in Mickey Thompson’s short course races. It was then that Thompson had told him about races like the Baja 1000. “When I first heard about the SCORE Baja 1000, it was in the mid to late 60’s and I was intrigued by the adventure of the unknown, said Stewart. “The more I heard about it, the more I wanted to learn about it.” Stewart had already been racing buggy classes in various off-road racing events, but claims he got hooked after heading down to the SCORE Baja 1000 in 1972. The following year, he entered the SCORE Ensenada 300 and won in Class 2 driving a Funco buggy. Stewart would then go on to win many class victories and the Overall SCORE Baja 1000 in 1976, 1993, and 1998, with repeated SCORE Baja 500 Overall victories in 1975, 1977, ’91,’92, ’93, ’94, ’97, ’98, and ’99. Stewart’s became known as the “iron-man” mostly due to Mickey Thompson’s introduction of him to the media as the guy who raced Baja without a co-driver. “Around 1975,76 Valvoline put up an award to anyone who could drive a single seat vehicle and win the race,” said Stewart. “I won Valvoline’s first award at the SCORE Baja 1000 then another at the SCORE Baja 500. I ended up winning a total of three. It was then that Mickey Thompson introduced me as the “Ironman” and it stuck with me.” The notion of driving solo was one that came naturally to Stewart, as he felt he was fit enough to drive the entire length of the race. “I worked in construction for many years and was always relatively fit,” said Stewart. “When I first started racing, my teammates would drive half and I would drive the other half. Eventually, they would let me down because they broke the race car or got lost. I didn’t like the idea of getting out of a perfectly good race car, especially when I was in perfectly good shape, and let someone else drive it. I wanted 100-percent of the purse and all of the recognition! That’s where it started.” His ability to withstand 1000 miles of racing in the desert and keeping the vehicle intact in the process, is what many believe is Stewart’s true “magic.” That skill, however, is something he learned early in his career and astonishingly is one that not everyone can achieve. “In any class, you have to have a feeling for the race car,” says Stewart. “Some people never get it. That’s really hard to teach. There’s only a handful of guys that I know that understand that like, Johnny Johnson, Rob MacCachren, and Walker Evans. I had always admired Parnelli Jones and I had an opportunity to drive with him one time. I was amazed that he drove really, really hard!” Stewart’s career really took off once he became associated with Toyota Motorsports and drove for the PPI Motorsports team of Cal Wells. “Those days were fantastic,” said Stewart. “As a car owner Cal Wells would get me anything I ever asked for. He would bend over backward to get me what I needed and somehow, he would find the money to do it. Cal had a real knack for getting sponsors and getting me the best race truck he could.” Those trucks would include some of the most highly developed vehicles at the time. One seat trucks with custom chassis and suspensions, allowed Stewart to move from SCORE’s Class 8 to the (new at the time) SCORE Trophy Truck class in the early 90’s. With the backing of Toyota’s engineering and marketing strength, Stewart’s career launched into legendary status. “We had lots of engineers and lots of testing and developing,” said Stewart. “We would go out to Barstow, California before a race and the trucks became faster and more durable. Our trucks were pretty exotic in those days.” Stewart’s overall achievements over the years have made the “Ironman” the icon for off-road racing. More than just about any other race driver in history, Ivan Stewart is recognized everywhere he goes and is still admired by young and old off-road enthusiasts alike. While he wears his legendary status with pride, Stewart has never been pretentious about it. His down-to-earth personality and ability to inspire racers and enthusiasts have kept him humble but proud of wearing that designation. “Early in my career, Mickey Thompson gave me some good advice and told me how I should conduct myself,” said Stewart. “I would go out of my way to make myself more professional, especially when I had to visit Toyota dealerships, do promotions, and even be a part of the video arcade games. I made sure my sponsors were included.” One of the many reasons why racers like BJ Baldwin, Rob MacCachren, and others idolized Stewart, is because he was one of the first professional off-road drivers who turned a love for racing into a real career. “I didn’t start racing for Toyota until I was 36,” said Stewart. “I knew then that I really wanted to carry that torch and move it into other forms of racing and make it into a career. I worked harder at it than most guys at that time, and I was very fortunate to make a living at it. I feel very fortunate and motivated to continue to help it and make it grow.” As the SCORE Baja 1000 turns 50 this year, Stewart’s excitement for the race and its legendary status are still the same from his very first introduction to it decades ago. “To me, the reason the SCORE Baja 1000 is the number one motorsports event, is its excitement and the challenge of the unknown,” says Stewart. “It’s still the ultimate challenge. The stories are never-ending. I for one, couldn’t get through my life without getting through the SCORE Baja 1000.” SJ

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